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So...what do the Penguins do with Letang?



On Thursday, the Penguins dropped $76 million to keep Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh until 2022, which made for an interesting situation.

With the majority of the club’s money locked up in core players like Sidney Crosby (12 years, $104.4 million), James Neal (six years, $30 million) and now Malkin, questions immediately abounded about how GM Ray Shero would retain the services of a number of key UFAs.

Specifically, Kris Letang.

The 26-year-old Norris nominee is heading into the final season of a four-year, $14 million deal, coming off a campaign in which he continued to produce as one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen: 38 points in 35 games, tied with PK Subban for the league lead among blueliners (Subban had the advantage of playing seven more games, though).

Letang has essentially been a point-a-game producer over the last two seasons, and has carried that scoring rate into the postseason.

So...what do the Penguins do with him?

Shero’s already on record saying Letang won’t be going anywhere. But, at the same time, he admitted the Pens will have to undergo some restructuring.

“This team is going to change,” said Shero. “It happens every year with free agency, salary cap, trades. Change is sometimes good and sometimes hard.”

Pittsburgh also needs to know what Letang wants to be paid.

On that note, here’s Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Letang, 26, seeks at least a five-year contract with a full no-trade clause, though he prefers an eight-year term. He also wants a full no-movement clause. Compensation is trickier because Letang is the first in-his-prime defenseman set to hit the open market under the new labor deal.

The Penguins believe Letang will want at least $7 million annually and closer to or above $8 million.

And here’s TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who notes that negotiations between Shero and Letang’s agent, Kent Hughes, haven’t started yet:

Letang’s negotiations could be more complex. Letang wants to stay in PIT but is entering fourth year of a “bargain” deal at $3.5M.

— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 13, 2013

Weber/Suter deals have skewed high-end D market. Safe bet to assume Letang will be looking for at least double his current $3.5M salary.

— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 13, 2013

It seems the biggest question will be if Pittsburgh wants to pay Letang as its elite, No. 1 defenseman, making him the guy.

On the surface, that decision might seem like a no-brainer -- he was nominated as one of the three best blueliners in the league -- but Letang still struggles with the defensive side of the game and has a penchant for turnovers and questionable decisions.

In short, he’s far from the perfect all-around defenseman.

Pittsburgh also has future blueliners to consider. The club spent a pair of first-round picks in 2012 on defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta and a second-round pick in 2011 on Scott Harrington.

Simon Despres, the club’s first-round pick in 2009, looks as though he’s ready to become a full-time NHLer. And there’s also the veterans to consider -- Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik -- neither of whom is signed past 2015.

So...what would you do with Letang?